Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

The environment in which you live is the product of a range of physical and biological actions happening today, and also the legacies of past human and environmental changes (landscape history). A key approach for studying landscape change, geomorphology, is through the study of catchments and the river systems that flow through them. In this unit students will develop an understanding of rivers, catchments and coasts, and how physical and biological processes interact at different scales to shape catchments and landscapes. Students will examine processes of erosion and deposition in landscapes via the movement of water and sediment along hillsides, down river channels and through estuaries, to the ocean where wave and tidal processes then shape the coastline. The impact of human activities on landscapes and processes, and how these impacts can be understood, predicted, and sustainably managed is a key theme in this unit and students will learn key skills in impact assessment and apply these to real-world environmental issues, such as safe water resource supply and management. Using practicals and field-trips, students will develop their empirical and analytical geographic skills introduced in earlier geography and the environment study, and this unit includes one or more field trips where students will collect and interpret field data from coasts and rivers.

The aim of this unit is to provide an understanding of how coastal and catchment landscapes form and function, of the processes responsible for landscape change, and to provide students with the skills to address real-world problems in the understanding and management of catchments and coasts. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe a coherent knowledge of catchment and coastal process and landforms, particularly of the movement and action of water on and through landscapes (GA4, GA5)

LO2 - Explain key approaches for catchment management and the rehabilitation of rivers and coasts (GA5, GA9)

LO3 - Assess the vulnerability of landscapes to erosion, flooding, land instability, and sea level change using field-based observations and other data sources (GA2, GA6, GA7, GA8)

LO4 - Critical evaluate the concepts and methodologies used by geographers to measure, monitor and manage processes in the natural environment that affect human society (GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8) 

LO5 - Communicate perspectives in geomorphology effectively using appropriate technologies and terminology (GA9, GA10)

Graduate attributes

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively


Topics will include:

  • The development of landscapes
  • Tectonics, weathering, sediments, and slope processes
  • Catchment processes and landforms
  • The water cycle and river systems
  • Groundwater in the landscape
  • Water erosion and gullying
  • Human-induced erosion and landscape change
  • Coastal landforms and change
  • Waves, tides and ocean currents
  • Erosion and rocky coasts
  • Deposition and sandy coasts
  • Wetlands, estuaries and deltas
  • Coral reefs and offshore islands
  • Water resources and catchment management
  • Water storage, supply and risks to water resources
  • Catchment management, including waterway, soils and coastal rehabilitation

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will use both face-to-face and/or multimedia forms of instruction during class. The in-class lecture component is used to convey new material and offer students the chance to engage and ask questions in person. The tutorial portion of the course is to be used as a resource to offer students the opportunity to put their knowledge learned in lectures to use and gain hands-on experience and learn and practice Geographical skills.

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit, as described in the learning and teaching strategy and the assessment strategy. Attendance at tutorials is strongly encouraged to ensure that you learn the appropriate tools and techniques in catchment and coastal analyses required to successfully complete the assessments connected with this. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support your learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, video etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. The assessment strategy allows students to engage in a variety of tasks, each aligned to their own learning outcomes.

The first assessment is a formative research tasks that provides students the opportunity for individual research on a key component of catchments, the water cycle. The second assessment builds on the results of the first with a larger research project that requires students to investigate and conduct research on the value of landscapes and landforms using observations collected during field work and other data sources. The final assessment, an end of semester examination, requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the topics covered in this unit and also the research, communication, and geographical skills they have developed.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Research presentation: Individual presentation based on a formative research task that develops an understanding of the water cycle at the catchment scale, including rainfall-runoff characteristics.


LO1, LO5

GA4, GA5, GA9, GA10

Research Task: Students will produce a written report detailing the results of their field-based research of catchment and coastal landforms and processes, research undertaken in practical classes, and subsequent research on key approaches to catchment and coastal management. 


LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA2, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9

Final Examination: Formal semester-end examination where students will be required to (a) Describe a coherent knowledge of catchment and coastal process and landforms, (b) Explain key approaches for catchment management and the rehabilitation of rivers and coasts, (c) discuss the vulnerability of landscapes to erosion, flooding, land instability, and sea level change, (d) describe the concepts and methodologies used to measure, monitor and manage processes in catchments and on coasts


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA7, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

 Bird, E., John Wiley 2nd ed. 2008. Coastal Geomorphology: An Introduction.

 Bierman, P.R. and Montgomery, D.R. 2020. Key Concepts In Geomorphology, 2nd edition. Macmillan.

 Butler, D. et al. 2018. Urban Drainage, 4th Edition. Routledge.

 Charlton, Ro 2007, Fundamentals of Fluvial Geomorphology, 1st ed., Taylor and Francis, Abingdon, Oxon

 Chorley, R.J. (Ed.) 2020. Introduction to Fluvial Processes. Routledge.

 Chorley, R.J. (Ed.) 2020. Introduction to Geographical Hydrology. Routledge.

 Davidson-Arnott, R., Bauer, B. and Houser, C., 2019. Introduction to coastal processes and geomorphology. Cambridge university press.

 Davie, T. 2019. Fundamentals of Hydrology (3rd edition). Routledge.

 Ferrier, R., Jenkins, A. 2021. Handbook of Catchment Management, 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell

 Gregory, K.J. and Lewin, J., 2014. The basics of geomorphology: Key concepts. Sage.

 Isbell, R. 2021. The Australian Soil Classification. CSIRO Publishing.

 Knighton, D, and Wharton, G. 2014. Fluvial Forms and Processes: A New Perspective. Routledge.

 McTainsh, G.H. and Boughton, W.C., Pearson 1993. Land Degradation Processes in Australia

 Wohl, E. 2019. Rivers in the Landscape, 2nd Edition. Wiley-Blackwell.

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